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  • England, U.K.
    13th Century

    Beginning of a Law

    England, U.K.
    13th Century

    The system of feme sole and feme covert developed in England in the High and Late Middle Ages as part of the common law system, which had its origins in the legal reforms of Henry II and other medieval English kings.




  • England, U.K.
    1340s

    Darcy's London Custumal

    England, U.K.
    1340s

    The extent of coverture in medieval England has also been qualified by the existence of femme sole customs that existed in some medieval English towns. This granted them independent commercial and legal rights as if they were single. This practice is outlined in Darcy's London custumal of the 1340s, allowing married women working independently of their husband to act as a single woman in all matters concerning her craft, such as renting a shop and suing and being sued for a debt.




  • U.S.
    Mar, 1776

    Abigail Adams

    U.S.
    Mar, 1776

    In March 1776, Abigail Adams, the wife and closest advisor of John Adams, second president of the U.S., saw an opportunity in the language of natural rights, and wrote to her husband, John Adams: In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husband. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.




  • England
    19th Century

    The Common Law

    England
    19th Century

    Coverture was established in the common law of England for several centuries and throughout most of the 19th century, influencing some other common-law jurisdictions. According to Arianne Chernock, coverture did not apply in Scotland, but whether it applied in Wales is unclear.




  • U.S.
    1840s

    John Neal

    U.S.
    1840s

    The earliest American women's right lecturer, John Neal attacked coverture in speeches and public debates as early as 1823, but most prominently in the 1840s, asking "how long [women] shall be rendered by law incapable of acquiring, holding, or transmitting property, except under special conditions, like the slave?"




  • U.S.
    1850s

    Lucy Stone

    U.S.
    1850s

    In the 1850s, according to DuBois, Lucy Stone criticized "the common law of marriage because it 'gives the "custody" of the wife's person to her husband, so that he has a right to her even against herself.' Stone kept her premarital family name after marriage as a protest "against all manifestations of coverture".




  • U.S.
    1869

    Myra Bradwell

    U.S.
    1869

    In 1869, coverture was criticized when Myra Bradwell was refused permission to practice as a lawyer in Illinois specifically because of coverture.


  • Washington, DC, U.S.
    1871

    Violated Law

    Washington, DC, U.S.
    1871

    In 1871, Bradwell argued to the Supreme Court that coverture violated the Constitution's 14th Amendment.


  • U.S.
    1890s

    Mary Ritter

    U.S.
    1890s

    Early feminist historian Mary Ritter Beard held the view that much of the severity of the doctrine of coverture was actually due to William Blackstone and other late systematizers rather than due to a genuine old common-law tradition.


  • U.S.
    1890s

    Privy Examination Laws

    U.S.
    1890s

    Nineteenth-century courts in the United States also enforced state privy examination laws. This practice was seen as a means to protect married women's property from overbearing husbands.


  • France
    1965

    In France

    France
    1965

    In 1965, married French women obtained the right to work without their husband's consent.


  • Washington, DC, U.S.
    1966

    Obsolete

    Washington, DC, U.S.
    1966

    After decades of criticism, finally, in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court said "the institution of coverture is ... obsolete" even while acknowledging coverture's existence in 1–11 states.


  • U.S.
    1972

    Extended from Coverture

    U.S.
    1972

    As recently as 1972, two US states allowed a wife accused in criminal court to offer as a legal defense that she was obeying her husband's orders.


  • Switzerland
    1988

    In Switzerland

    Switzerland
    1988

    Switzerland was one of the last European countries to establish gender equality in marriage: married women's rights were severely restricted until 1988, when legal reforms providing gender equality in marriage, abolishing the legal authority of the husband, came into force (these reforms had been approved in 1985 by voters in a referendum, who narrowly voted in favor with 54.7% of voters approving).


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